Jorge Mancera works at the Mission High School San Francisco Unified School District Student Nutrition Services pantry. According to the April, 2021, schedule, that site gives out five days’ worth of meals on Tuesdays and two days’ worth of meals on Thursdays from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Five-day bags are available only for SFUSD students and siblings; two-day bags are available for all children 18 and under.
Jorge Mancera peeks out from behind a plastic divider at his pantry station at Mission High School, ready to push a bag of produce to a waiting client.
He’s been aiding the San Francisco Unified School District’s effort to feed its students and their families since March, 2020, and usually the same faces stare back from across the divider. He now recognizes most of them and chats with them. One group that’s hard to miss is the Mayan couple with eight children who visit twice a week. He greets them as they descend the hill just after they grab a box of food from the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank location next door, knowing that it wouldn’t satisfy a table for 10. “I know the faces very well,” Mancera said. “They’d come with nearly eight bags of food.”
Sometimes the 44-year-old would bring two of her eight children, other times four. Those left behind were watched by friends. The eldest child, according to Mancera’s estimate, is around 12, and the youngest is 2. Five of them are enrolled in school, he said.
“I thought she had moved out of San Francisco to some new city,” Mancera recalled.
Finally, she appeared in February with a story that shocked him. She and her husband, a dishwasher who had been out of work for most of the pandemic, both contracted Covid-19 last winter, along with two of their children. When they found out, they felt extremely stressed, they told Mancera.
“They knew that getting coronavirus was the worst situation,” Mancera said.
You name a symptom, this woman had it: fever, coughing, lack of appetite. It was a month later when all four of them became so ill they were transferred to San Francisco General Hospital. Meanwhile, the woman fretted over the remaining kids, who were being temporarily cared for by friends.
She told him she had almost died.
The couple told Mancera that they received almost no help during their ailment, except for some food boxes from the food bank and other organizations.
“I was surprised,” Mancera said. “How can you continue to survive [without more assistance] when you have such a big family?”
Fortunately, as of March, 2021, the woman’s husband found work again as a dishwasher, and the woman resumed her role of hunting for sustenance for her young ones.
Because the pantry he works at was closed last week, Mancera didn’t see her. But he expects to soon, with her kids in tow.